(TODAY'S GUEST: David Robson is a San Francisco-based cinephile who blogs at The House of Sparrows. We asked him if we could cross-post his rather personal take on Edgar Wright's The World's End - he instead offered us the expanded take below. You can find him on Twitter, where, among other things, he's a reliable participant in our Friday Movies Chats.)
We all went to school with someone like Gary King, Simon Pegg's strung-out,
hard-partying protagonist. And it's quite possible that, like Gary, the black-clad, ne'er-do-well we remember hasn't quite grown out of his rebellious phase. When we catch up to Gary at the start of director Edgar Wright's movie he's lamenting how his school years have proven to be the best of his life, and that everything since has sucked. Gary's so at odds with the modern world that he gets the lads back
together to recreate an epic but incomplete pub crawl that, in
retrospect, was their last real night of freedom. And though none of the
lads (Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsan in
uniformly well-observed turns) can seem to communicate to Gary that he's
living too too much in the past, soon even Gary realizes that all is
not right in Newton Haven.
It's a grand and funny conclusion to Pegg & Wright's Three Flavours Cornetto
trilogy; the comedy lands and the fight scenes (built around the notion
that our heroes become better fighters the drunker they get) match
those of a more straight-up action movie. And yet it doesn't play with genre quite as purely as the films of, say, Tarantino. It even breaks from the previous movies in Wright's trilogy. Where Shaun of the Dead took on zombie movie tropes, and Hot Fuzz wreaked similar faithful yet gleeful havoc with cop/buddy action movie cliches, The World's End approach to genre is more complex.
It is certainly of a number of British genre and cinematic traditions: its portrait of a small town beset by
unseen and sinister forces is social genre fiction in line with John Wyndham, and the games it plays with numbers and the names of the twelve pubs recall Peter Greenaway's playful touches. But where other filmmakers would make their stories about these traditions, Wright and Pegg (who, to be clear, have never skimped on the dimensionality of their characters) are more concerned with the lives, hopes, frustrations, and fears of the people they've created. Though Gary's friends have all moved on from their youthful, carefree days (and dearly wish that Gary would do the same), they all, in their own grudging but unspoken way, recognize that Gary's retained something precious that they've long since lost. And Gary is dealing with some very real angst, clinging as much to his own reality as his friends are to theirs. Little wonder, then, that he invents a tactical advantage to finish his beloved pub crawl, doggedly pursuing it to the World's End.
Some have observed (complained, really) that it's simply not as funny as Shaun of the Dead. But the very real melancholy that pervades The World's End is the thing I savor most about it. Wright has commented that even when
things are good one is always drawn home, driven by a strange need to go
back. And as specifically as my life jibes with Gary's (though I
like to think I'm not quite so addled, or pained), I suspect this aspect
of the movie will resonate with many. It's a clever and thrilling
movie, to be sure, but one with much to say about our world and those
who live discontentedly within it, whether they acknowledge this
discontent or not.
Suitable for a movie bearing its title, there's a beautiful finality to the movie. Wright is certainly not finished with genre movies (his next one is Ant-Man, for chris'sake), but there's a sense of completion to the aptly-titled The World's End. If Wright and Pegg have finally achieved a kind of maturity and perspective that eludes other filmmakers still in the thrall of genre movies, they haven't forgotten what made those movies so exciting in the first place. And so they manage to have it both ways, fully delivering on the promise of such apocalyptic fiction, but humanistically sorting it all out so that everyone ends up right. Even Gary.